Solid-State Power Amplifiers: What are they and how do they work?

Amplifiers are an ubiquitous device for serious musicians and enthusiasts alike. Amplifiers are usually paired with guitars but other instruments can and will benefit from having an amplifier.

Like guitars, there are many brands and types of amplifiers in the market. Countless sites and magazines promote a WIDE variation of amps. Amplifiers can also be classified by their size (usually their casing).

Today we are going to look at solid state amps and get a feel for what the are and how they work.  For more info about solid state amplifier check out our 2017 reviews

The Solid-State Power Amplifier 

internal view of a solid state amplifier

The solid-state power amplifiers became widespread around the 1970’s and the 1980’s. They were the second type of amplifiers that emerge right after vacuum tube amplifiers. Like its vacuum tube cousin, the solid -state power amplifier mimicked the evolution of related technologies. While vacuum tube amps benefited from the same technology that powered the cumbersome, room-sized computers of the early 1940’s, the solid-state power amps benefited from the field of semiconductors.

Basically it's a semiconductor powered amp.

Although more “hi-tech” amplifiers are around, solid-state power amps are still widely regarded by its users for its well-proven design as well and its relatively cheap price. Solid-state power amps are also lighter than vacuum tube based ones owing to the lighter internal components. Some fans of solid-state power amps also state that this type of amp produces a cleaner type of sound.  As always, your perception may differ from others in determining the “cleanliness” of the sound produced by an amp.

How does it work?

Vacuum tubes work because the carrier of the signals are the vacuums. The same idea works with the solid-state power amps. The only difference (has hinted above) is the medium. The medium used inside any solid-state power amp is the semiconductor.

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What are Semiconductors? 

basic diagram showing a semiconductor
Semiconductor are at the heart of any circuit board.

Semiconductors are the technology that is based on the electric conductivity emitted differences between a conductor (metal) and an insulator. The differences between these two main components are interpreted by the system as a whole as the output. Basically, the differences of the two is the language for the whole system (e.g. appliance). Other components may alter the electric signal emitted, enabling greater control for the user.

Another comparison that can be make to help in explaining this topic is the similarity of the semiconductors and that of our very own neural system. Our neural system is composed of nerve pathways and the neuron cells themselves that hold the data once a stimuli is experienced. Likewise, the electric waves generated by the differences between the conductor and the insulator (plus the other components that may alter the the signal emitted) are akin to the neuron cells shuttling through and from our brains to carry the data and dictate the output of our bodies (appliances in the semiconductor’s case).

Solid-state Power Amps and Semiconductors close up picture showing the internal workings of an amplifier

Pry any solid-state power amp and you will find that the wires connecting the components are centered towards one component. This is usually the semiconductor. Almost all processes that is happening inside a solid-state power amp goes through a sliver of metal looking object called the semiconductor.

This kind of setup is perhaps more noticeable in self-made amplifiers than mass produced ones, as the presence of a project board (usually the bedrock of any self-made amp) simplifies the placement of the wires.

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Electrical impulses coming from the outside (usually from instruments) will be directed towards the semiconductor at the heart of the solid-state amp. These then bounce around the capacitors and resistors adjacent to the semiconductor to mimic the sound of the instrument in use while amplifying it. The resulting output of the amp is the result of the cooperation between the components inside the amp spearheaded by the semiconductor.

And that is how a solid-state power amp works. I apologize for my poor explanation but such topics are difficult for a native German speaker. 🙂

Types of Amplifiers according to medium

The innards of an amplifier has been constantly changing since its inception and dissemination  to the general public during the 1920’s. The development of associated technology is the main driver for this trend.

  • Vacuum Tube Amplifiers
  • Solid State Power Amplifiers
  • Hybrid Amplifiers
  • Modeling Amplifiers
  • Acoustic Amplifiers

Vacuum amplifiers were the first to emerge concurrent to the era of computers that also used the vacuum tube technology to work more efficiently. 

Hybrid amplifiers are a mixture of both vacuum tube amps and  solid state amps. Modeling amplifiers utilize the latest technology brought upon by microchips that are also in use by most computers. Acoustic Amplifiers, as the name suggest, cater toward guitars that are acoustic in nature.

Every musician has his/her own preference when it comes to amps. Even vacuum tube are still preferred by a large amount of musicians because of its warmer and better sound quality.

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